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Intel, which has set itself a new priority of reducing the energy required for its chips, will announce on Tuesday a 1,000-fold reduction improvement in power leakage from transistors to compete in an area where it has lost out to rivals.
The advance is being exploited in an ultra-low power version of its chips aimed at smaller devices – an area in which Intel has been relatively unsuccessful compared with to its dominance of the PC world, where it has 80 per cent market share.
Intel’s latest manufacturing processes have reduced the lengths of transistors from 90 nanometres (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre) to 65, allowing it to double the number of transistors it can build on a single chip.
The more tightly packed the transistors become, the more difficult it is to control power leakage and heat generation. Transistors can leak electricity even in their “off” state but Intel says an improved design for them is achieving significant reductions in the three major sources of leakage – sub-threshold, junction and gate oxide leakage.
“With the number of transistors on some chips exceeding 1bn, it is clear that improvements made for individual transistors can multiply into huge benefits for the entire device,” says Mark Bohr, senior fellow and director of Intel Process Architecture and Integration.
“Test chips made on Intel’s ultra-low power 65nm process technology have shown transistor leakage reduction roughly 1,000 times from our standard processes. This translates into significant power savings for people who will use devices based on this technology.”
While the technology will reduce the drain on batteries in notebook PCs, Jim McGregor, principle analyst at the In-Stat research firm, says the advance will be a major boost for Intel’s efforts to get its processors into mobile phones.
“If they can get this down to a product for handheld devices then the opportunities are huge.” I think this is Intel saying: if we want to be competitive with the likes of Texas Instruments and Freescale, we have to do multiple things and this is one step towards an optimised processor,” he says.